Different But Equal: The Neurodiverse Classroom

An eminent author is calling for the concept of neurodiversity to be adopted by the education system. Victoria Honeybourne, who is also an advisory teacher for children with special educational needs, is an advocate of the neurodiversity paradigm, having been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome herself.

Within this model, types of learning and behaviour that are considered different to the norm, are in no way penalised or made out to be inferior. Rather, they are seen as a normal and expected part of human variation. Victoria believes that this approach should be adopted within the education system, and used her session at The Education Show in the Early Years and SEN Theatre on March 18 to explain the concept and why it is so important to create an inclusive learning experience for children.

She said: “Diversity is an accepted and expected part of life in 21st Century Britain, it’s one of the things that makes us special. We are all aware of issues pertaining to gender diversity and cultural diversity, with issues such as gender fluidity and cross-cultural lifestyles being readily embraced in many instances. However, fewer people are aware of neurodiversity and so, in my view, it fails to get the recognition is deserves and is not embraced and celebrated in the same way as other differences in society.”

Victoria says the concept of neurodiversity represents a paradigm shift in the fields of health and education. Instead of ‘pathologising’ and labelling individuals who have perceived deficits in the way they learn, think and relate – such as individuals with dyslexia, autism, dyspraxia and other special educational needs and differences – the neurodiversity paradigm considers this diversity and range of needs to be a normal, and expected, part of human variation. This view opposes the idea that there is one ‘normal’ type of brain or one ‘right’ form of neurocognitive functioning.

“The topic of neurodiversity is an issue that is very close to my heart for a number of reasons”, she says. “On a personal level, I myself have been diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. I don’t, however, consider myself to be in any way ‘abnormal’ or ‘wrong’. For me, the biggest difficulty is often society’s narrow view of what constitutes ‘normal’.

On a professional level, as an advisory teacher for special educational needs, I also believe in the importance of the education system adopting the neurodiversity paradigm.

“There are more children than ever before who are being identified as having special educational needs, and the young people in our classrooms are becoming ever more complex, many arriving at school with Different But Equal: The Neurodiverse Classroommultiple diagnoses, difficulties and complex needs. It is understandable, therefore, that many school staff are feeling overwhelmed by this; just how it is possible to meet so many different needs in one classroom, often with limited time and resources? With recent assessment and curriculum changes, more and more staff are feeling that they have the impossible task of ‘fitting square pegs into round holes’. And this wholly goes against the concept of neurodiversity, in which there is no one way of thinking, learning or processing information that is favoured over another or considered superior or ‘correct’.”

For the children and young people with special educational needs, Victoria says the current system of teaching and learning can also have a negative impact. She maintains that the very act of labelling an individual with a condition, disorder or special need implies that there is something ‘wrong’ with the person, rather than accepting that environments, attitudes, policies and practices can all play a role in marginalising these individuals.

She said: “With these diagnoses, and the subsequent differences in the way SEN students are often taught and treated – with many being marginalised from mainstream education or being set lower academic expectations than their peers – it is easy for SEN students to begin to see themselves as ‘other’, and to start to doubt or disbelieve in their own capabilities and capacity to learn and grow.

“That is not to say that teaching all children in the same way is a good idea – far from it. What neurodiversity advocates is difference, but not inequality. Children with special educational needs may need to be taught in a slightly different way, may behave and interact differently from their peers, and may face struggles that their teachers and classmates find difficult to understand and relate to. But the resounding message of the neurodiversity paradigm is: that is normal; that is okay. The idea that underpins this model of learning isthat these differences exist as part of the complex and varied state of being human, and not as some anomaly or abnormality, or an exception to the rule which must be accommodated rather than embraced.”

The vision for Victoria is a neurodiverse classroom, where the whole spectrum of human behaviour is catered for.
She said: “If teaching staff and the education system as a whole are able to accept and expect a neurodiverse student population, and to anticipate these variations in learning and thinking styles, schools will be far better equipped to educate and nurture all of our children, not just those who fit within the existent model of teaching and learning.”

Victoria’s publications include Educating and Supporting Girls with Asperger’s and Autism (2016), Your Autism Journey: (2016), The Sky’s The Limit (2015), and The Teachers’ Speech, Language and Communication Pocketbook (2014).


April 29, 2019

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